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Stigma, Financial Barriers Prevent Women From Seeking Postpartum Depression Treatment

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Help for postpartum depression is available, but what is holding women back?

It is estimated that one in five – or up to 20 percent of women – will suffer from this disorder, with the spectrum of illnesses including obsessive compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder, and postpartum psychosis.

Recent research revealed that women in low-income areas have a higher risk for postpartum depression or any other mental illness related to pregnancy. A 2008 CDC report showed that those with Medicaid benefits for their delivery had been more likely to report symptoms.

A 2010 research found that over half of low-income moms residing in urban areas met depression diagnosis criteria between two and 14 weeks post-delivery.

And yet mothers are usually not getting the treatment they need. Stigma emerges as part of the host of reasons why.

"I have had African American friends tell me…they were on the receiving end of messages including, 'That's a white woman's disease. We don't get that,' " said Lynne McIntyre, Mary’s Center for Maternal Health program manager and herself a postpartum depression survivor.

Their center in Washington, D.C. is said to offer care regardless of patient’s financial capacity, with many patients from low-income and African-American, Latino, and East African groups.

Executive director Marty Hartman of overnight shelter Mary’s Place in Seattle also noted that depression is taboo in many cultures, with the shame upon the sufferer and her family “a definite hurdle to get over.”

The lack of finances or transportation needed to get help may also be a barrier, added Hartman, who delved on a massive gap to be met for availing health care – from bus tickets to gas funds for the appointments.

“All of those things are real and those prevent people from accessing the care that they need,” Hartman said.

But things are looking up, with several models of success around the United States. Bellevue Hospital Center in New York City, for instance, has integrated maternal mental health into its general health care for women. Every pregnant patient is seen by a social worker and screened for history of mental condition and current symptoms.

Mary’s Center in Washington also provides two free and ongoing support groups – in English and in Spanish – for women, as well as direct psychotherapy and psychiatric solutions.

Postpartum Resource Center of New York Co-founder and Executive Director Sonia Murdock emphasized the universal message to convey depression or anxiety during or post-pregnancy: “You are not alone. You are not to blame. You will feel better and be well with the help.”

The definition of postpartum depression remains broad, making it hard to diagnose. According to the CDC, about 8 to 19 percent of American women suffer from the condition.

About a decade ago, Brooke Shields went out into the open and discussed her depression after giving birth to her first child. Drew Barrymore also wrote about her experience, while Hayden Panettiere was recently admitted in a treatment facility for it.

Photo: Petra Bensted | Flickr

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